The Making Your Home Smart – A Complete Guide For Beginners
Many people become overwhelmed when they first begin looking at Smart Home elements or systems. When you type “Smart Home” into your search bar, the internet responds with a tsunami of information.
Making your home Smart does not have to be complicated. Here, I will run through everything you need to know so that anyone, from the tech-savvy to the technically challenged, can build the Smart Home to suit – both renters and homeowners.
What Do The Different Smart Home Terms Mean?
Let’s start by laying out some definitions:
You will need a wireless router if you are going to build a Smart home. If you have wi-fi at home, then you already have one. The information on your home wi-fi network travels through your wireless router, which then sends the information onto the correct destination.
You can think of the router as a postal service where computers in the system send packets of info to the router, and the router delivers them to the correct point.
The wifi router I use for my home is the MOTOROLA MG7540 You can find it on Amazon for $129.95. Its a great router for any home and is also gamer friendly.
A hub is a device through which a group of devices communicates, without having to go through the wireless router. Many Smart Homes are built using a hub. However, although the communication does not go through the wireless router, you still need a router to provide the wi-fi.
The Two Styles Of Smart Home System
There are two kinds of system you can build: one with a hub or one without a hub.
With A Hub
The advantage of having a Smart home system with a hub is that each smart home item you have is controlled through the hub. So, for example, if you have an Amazon Echo device this would be your hub, and you could say things like “Hey Alexa, unlock the front door” or “Hey Alexa, turn down the lights in the bedroom.”
The disadvantage of a hub system is that you have to purchase the hub itself, making it more expensive to set up.
In addition, you must also ensure that each item you purchase for your Smart home, is compatible with the hub you have chosen.
Without A Hub
On a system without a hub, you will control each element, or group of items, through an app on your smartphone. So, for example, you might have one app for all of your Smart light bulbs, and another for your door locks. This is a less expensive way for beginners to build a Smart home as you can add compatible elements one at a time.
The downside is that you will be moving between apps for each group of items in your Smart home network, although this is not a big deal if you only have Smart light bulbs or just a Smart door lock.
Making A Choice
If you are unsure which kind of Smart home system you would like to build, or you would like to build your system slowly, and with less initial expense, there is a solution.
You can decide which hub you would like to use in the future an begin by buying items such a Smart light bulbs, which are compatible with that hub. This way, you can add Smart home elements as and when you wish, controlling them on your Smartphone, and at a later date, buy a hub to which you can connect your existing items.
Smart System Elements
These are the most popular types of item to use within a Smart home system:
With a smart light bulb, it really is as easy as screwing in the bulb and downloading the app to your phone. Once you have the app you can dim or brighten the light, set timers for the light to go on and off, and, depending on the particular model have the lights change color, play “light sequences” or even have them sequence along to the music to which you are listening.
If and when you decide to upgrade to a hub, it is simple to then control the lights via your Smartphone or tablet, as well as the speaker or the display of your hub. One of the best examples is the Phillips Hue smart light system.
With a smart thermostat, you can set your heating to different temperatures for different times of the day through your phone or hub, as well as manually.
The most popular option is the Nest Thermostat, which will also learn over time. It also has the capability to connect to Amazon Alexa, as long as you purchase the generation 2 or 3 models.
For example, if you turn your temperature down at around the same time every day and then set it to a warmer setting in the evening, Nest will detect these patterns, learn them and begin change these settings automatically. You can also set it to use your phones geographical data so that it will turn down the heat while you are away and turn it back up when your phone is within a specific range.
You can install smart security cameras quickly and easily. For some systems, it is as easy as screwing a bracket to hold the camera into the wall, and you are done.
Some cameras film everything while others you can set only to come on when motion is detected. Depending on the system, you may be able to control the camera from your phone, allowing you to pan the camera and look around.
Smart security systems which have integrated cameras and speakers will also allow you to have a two-way conversation.
So, for example, you may be a parent with children who arrive home while you are still at work. With a smart camera and speaker, you can use the app on your phone or tablet to see that they have arrived home and remind them to do their homework!
My favorite system is the Arlo Wireless Camera System with rechargeable batteries. I purchased the first generation cameras and had to replace the batteries every couple of like clockwork. This hurt my wallet as well as decreased the working time of the cameras. The ability to recharge your batteries at home is a must for any wireless camera system.
Doorbells for your Smart home can be a fabulous alternative to a full security camera system. These doorbells have an integrated camera. This means that when the bell rings you can see, on your phone, tablet, or hub display, who is at the door, allowing you to dodge those unwanted callers.
Those doorbells with have integrated speakers also let you talk to whoever is at the door. With this style of doorbell, you can chat to a delivery driver and ask them to leave your parcel in a particular spot, even if you are at work when the package arrives.
The Ring Video Doorbell is a fantastic choice for any home. It integrates with Amazon Alexa and allows you to see and talk to whoever is at your door, regardless if you are home or not.
Changing the locks is one of the first things you should do when you move into a new home. For this reason, smart locks are often the first smart home item people install. The majority of smart locks are easy to install and control from your phone, tablet, or hub. The basic features are the ability to:
- Lock and unlock your door remotely
- Send other people “virtual keys” that will allow them access to your home. These virtual keys can also be quickly revoked and monitored, allowing you to see at a glance, who has a key to your home and who does not.
- Connect to your smartphone so that it unlocks as your phone is within a particular range, and lock the door behind you, once you are in the home.
Some smart locks also have keypads, which let you give a unique code to up to 30 people.
A smart plug fits into your regular electrical outlet. You then plug the device you would like to control, into the smart plug and BINGO – you can control that item, to some degree with your phone or hub. This Amazon Smart Switch works with Alexa and Google Home.
This allows you to switch appliances on and off, program times for events to happen and some plugs have additional features such as an “AWAY” mode which will randomly turn your appliances and lights on and off to make it look like someone is home.
Just as you can find a range of regular coffee makers catering to your particular level of coffee scholar you are, you can also find smart coffee makers from the very basic to machines with which you can pre-soak your beans!
There is one model which will make your drink with pods. It can be programmed to brew at particular times and ping you when it is ready, brew when your phone is within a specific range, or brew when you ask it to remotely, via the app.
Others come with the traditional glass carafe and can be told to brew your cuppa at a specific time or at once via their apps. They will also tell you when the water or the coffee level is low, so you’ll never expect a cup from an empty machine
A top of the line machine allows you to pre-soak beans, control the grind and set the temperature so your coffee will be exactly as you want it.
Want to lay in bed and let the sunshine in without getting up? Then smart blinds are for you.
While locks, bulbs, and thermostats have been on the market for a while now, smart blinds are a relative newcomer to the scene, and as such, there are fewer models to choose from and fewer features available on some.
You can still buy smart blinds that are as easy to install as regular blinds and can be controlled from your phone, your hub, manually, or by remote. There is also one option where you can buy a motor to retrofit your existing blinds.
As well as coffee makers, there is now an entire range of smart:
- Ranges – Pre-heat the oven by turning it on with your phone while on the way home from work. Forget to turn off the cooker sometimes? You can receive alerts if a ring on the range has been on for too long.
- Refrigerators – Maintain a shopping list, add to the list remotely, access the list while you are shopping, or even send the list to a grocery store, and have your shopping delivered without leaving home. Receive alerts if the temperature is too hot, too cold, the door has been left open, or there has been an interruption to the power supply.
- Smart Mirrors- Buy yourself a smart mirror which will play you the tunes you request as you do your hair in the mornings. The mirror will also answer your questions about the morning traffic, the weather forecast or play you the news. Not only that but the motion sensor will turn on the integrated lights, so no more tripping up in the dark, and you can also set a two-minute timer an ensure you brush your teeth for the minimum recommended time!
- Toothbrushes – Yes, you read that correctly, you can purchase a smart toothbrush which will track your brushing habits and provide you a report to share with your dentist. Maybe not the most useful smart item, but you could always by them for the kids and check they have brushed their teeth correctly.
- Shower Speakers– Waterproof bathroom speakers have been around for a while, and they have evolved to connect to your Smart home. Now you can ask your speaker to play whatever you like and skip, pause, fast forward, etc.
- Shower Controls – A smart shower unit can be pre-programmed so that each family member can have the perfect temperature and flow at the touch of a button or voice request. You can ask your Smart home system to start your shower while you’re getting out of bed, and have it at the perfect temperature when you step in.
- Scales – Will track your weight, BMI, and other data for multiple family members and report to your phone, tablet or speak your weight aloud via your hub speaker, if you so wish.
- Leak Sensors – A small device which will send you an alarm if water reaches a certain level on the floor. These are also a great addition to the laundry room, kitchen, or the basement if it is prone to flooding.
- Toilet Flushes – Yes, you can now retro fir your toilet so you can flush by voice command.
If you would like to develop a Smart home with a hub from the get-go, or if you are planning to upgrade to a hub system, there are, many, many options to choose from. I’m going to run through the most popular three.
The Big Three Systems Of the Smart Home
If you are considering starting out with a hub, or slowly building up to a hub, you are most likely going to be using one of the big three systems:
- Google Assistant
- Amazon Alexa
- Apple HomeKit
Until recently, there was a fourth system called “Works with Nest.” You will still see these devices online and in stores, and they are still as excellent as they once were. The only difference is that Nest has been purchased by Google, who are slowly integrating the two systems.
The system which works through the four Google devices is called Google Assistant. You can chose from:
- Google Home Mini
- Google Home
- The Google Home Max
- Nest Hub
The three Google hubs are essentially boxes with microphones and speakers through which you can talk to “Google Assistant” who will do what you ask or answer your questions. As well as controlling your Smart home devices, the Google range of hubs can stream music tell you the latest sports news, recommend local businesses or let you know the perfect recipe for your needs.
You can also program “routines” into your system so, for example, you might program a “Good Night Routine” which would set the locks, turn off lights, lower the temperature, etc. Then you could say “Hey Google, Goodnight” and it will trigger everything you have set up to happen in your “Good Night” routine.
The difference between the three comes down to size, sound quality, range, and price.
The Nest hub is different.
While it does all of the things and has the same capabilities as the Google Home range, the Nest Hub is not just a speaker, it also has a screen display interface, much like the world’s smartest digital photo frame.
You can voice control all of the devices in your Smart home through the Nest hub, as well as:
- Watch YouTube videos in answer to your questions. For example, if you ask “OK Google, How do I prepare a pineapple?” the Nest hub will offer you the option of watching a video, instead of giving verbal instructions.
- Play Music. You can listen to Spotify or TuneIn for free or play music via YouTube
- Maintain your calendar: You can have a morning routine, and when you say “Ok Google, Good Morning,” it will display your days’ appointments.
All four of these devices; the Google Mini, Google Home, the Google Home Max, and the Nest Hub, are capable of controlling your Smart home. You just need to ensure that the items you buy, such as smart light bulbs, thermostats locks, etc., are “Google Assistant Compatible.”
Again, there are several hub devices:
- Amazon Echo
- Amazon Echo Dot
- The Amazon Echo Plus
- Amazon Echo Kids Edition
Just as with Google, the Amazon Echo devices are smart speakers, and you can do all of the same things with them:
- Ask Alexa to play music, answer questions, read the news, check the weather, set alarms, control compatible smart home devices, play Audible audiobooks, call almost anyone, and more.
- Alex has a built-in Smart home hub with which you can set up and voice control any compatible Smart home devices.
- Alexa will when asked, play a song from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, Apple Music, and more.
- Use Alexa as an intercom and speak to people in any other room of the house which has an Echo Dot or Echo.
The Amazon equivalent of the Nest Hub is the Amazon Echo Show. With all of the same capabilities of the Nest Hub, I prefer the Amazon Echo Show because it is easy to turn off the microphones and slide the shutter across the camera.
Amazon also makes it easier to choose a range of Smart home elements. For example, you can purchase the Echo and bundle it with a set of compatible smart light bulbs, or you could buy a bundle with a Ring Alarm 14 piece security system and an Echo dot.
Apple Home Kit
Apple Home kit is the go-to Smart home system for Apple & iOS fans.
The Apple Home Pod is the speaker, which is at the center of the Apple Home. You can do precisely the same with the Home Pod, as you can with the Google Home Speakers and the Amazon Echo.
The difference being, you would say “Hey Siri” at the beginning of your request instead of “Hey Google” or “Hey Alexa.”
You can dip your toe into the world of the Smart home by choosing one item, such as smart light bulbs, and see how you get on. By selecting items that will be compatible at a later date, you can then upgrade to a central hub Smart home at a later time.
Alternatively, you can jump straight in and get yourself a hub and speaker, or a hub and display. You can then enjoy all of the benefits of a remotely and voice-controlled home.
More Information From Real Estate Experts
Making Your Home Green – John Cunningham
Smarten Up Different Rooms – Jeff Nelson
Smart Technology Impact On Real Estate – Kyle Hiscock
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.